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Sunday
Jun212015

FROM CD'S TO CHERRY BLOSSOMS // A THEATRE REVIEW OF "EST'S 35TH MARATHON OF ONE-ACT PLAYS SERIES C"

BY MATEO MORENO

This year, Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Marathon of One-Act Plays have been filled with a few blunders, but also has brought lot of great gems. Series A brought us the light and funny 52nd to Bowery to Cobble Hill, in Brooklyn by Chiara Atik and Mariah McCarthy’s powerful play/dance piece Until She Claws Her Way Out, while Series B’s The Hour of All Things by Caridad Svich and Julia Cho’s Cora and Dave Are Getting Older shined the brightest. Series C brings my favorite piece of the series to light but also starts off with the weakest by far, both in the writing and acting. We’ll start with that first.

DEVIL MUSIC by Angela Martin is the prime example of an undercooked ham. Daniel Morgan Shelley and Crystal Lucas-Perry play JJ and Geraldine, two co-workers at a music store called “Devil Music” that’s going out of business. They sort through old CD’s and talk about the store and their past relationship (they used to date). The acting is entirely unbelievable and although you can tell that Martin wants this to be a funny, cute, and relatable piece, it isn’t. The jokes are not funny, the characters actions are not grounded, and it feels more than anything like someone wrote a play about an idea they had but have no idea how people actually interact. Sadly, a big, bad dud.


GOOD AFTERNOON by Daniel Reitz, does much better with far trickier material. Glen (Haskell King) has to go door to door in his neighborhood telling his neighbors that he is a registered sex offender. He rings Madelyn’s (Emma Galvin) doorbell and she is instantly drawn to him. Does she feel sorry for him? Relate to him? Possibly both, and she invites him into her home. What follows is not a typical tale at all. Their conversation is real and sad, funny and filled with a strange connection. King is great as a man who is drawn to a woman that seems to understand him, or at least have compassion for him. He’s honest and grounded. Galvin does great work here too, as a lonely women needing connection. Director Jules Ochoa does fine work with two strong actors, and steps over the tricky material with aplomb.

 

THE SCIENCE OF STARS AND FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS by Darcy Fowler is a simple tale, and one with an ending you’ll probably see coming long before it arrives. Yet that doesn’t take away any of the sweetness or lovely power of it. Michael Cullen plays Tom, father of Madelyn (Emma Galvin) and we start with her at age 8. Tom rows them out in the middle of a lake and introduces his young daughter to star gazing, one of his favorite things to do. She’s fascinated by them and absolutely loves spending time with her father. But with each passing year, next age 9, then 13, and 16 she gets less and less interested, drawing farther and farther away from her father. He doesn’t know how to connect, she pulls away. It’s a simple story, told in flashing moments through time (each one signified with a “lights up, lights down” and slight costume changes). Cullen and Galvin are both beautifully connected to the material, pushing the feeling of aching connection between a real father and daughter through the years. The simple lighting and Direction by Lindsay Firman lets it glide along and if by the end you have a few tears in your eyes, well you’re not the only one.

 


Lizan Mitchell plays an inquisitive mother waking her daughter Claire (Sharina Martin) in the middle of the night in France-Luce Benson’s THE TALK.  Mitchell’s Manu comes into her daughter’s childhood room, where she is sleeping while home for the weekend, carrying a package with an unexpected item inside, prompting a talk about sexuality. Normally, “the talk” happens the other way around, with the parents (or parent) talking to the child about the birds and the bees. Yet in this household, Manu was never exposed to such things as her own parents and her own husband never talked about anything sexual. This set up starts the piece in a very fast paced and funny direction, and ultimately heartfelt. Martin is very strong as Claire, equally funny and compassionate. Lizan Mitchell plays Manu to perfection, her Haitian accent strong and her comic sensibilities even stronger. Much like The Science of Stars and Fathers and Daughters this is a real parent and child relationship. Their bond is lived in and strong. Benson has written a very funny and affecting script with Elizabeth Van Dyke’s quick and sharp direction The Talk has real surprises and lots of heart.


Ending the marathon is no small feat. You’re the final play those who have seen all three Series will see. EST in recent years have been recognized, and rightfully so, for their unusual takes on the world. Joining the ranks of The Year of the Rooster to Five Times in One Night to the Tony Nominated Hand To God is DOUBLE SUICIDE AT UENO PARK! Leah Nanako Winkler’s play is strange, violent, bizarre, hilarious, and unique in every sense of the word. The play starts with three actresses (Yurika Ohno, Kana Hatakeyama, Shiori Ichikawa) arriving on stage as “Cherry Trees,” speaking almost like a Greek Chorus. One speaks in Japanese and another translates, bringing us into this world. Two more girls enter: Onoe (Sasha Diamond) and Akemi (Jo Mei). They are young courtesans, aging from 12-16, who speak like two young friends, carefree and chatting, having the time of their lives. Yet their dialogue cuts deep into the old and often cruel culture of Japanese women, how they’re treated, and the feminine culture in general. A few choice lines are: “Cover your mouth when you are laughing, Onoe! You look like a dirty, loud, poor person!” And “Do you think that the female sex are creatures of deep sin, destined in death to be thrown into the pond of our own menstrual blood in hell?”

Subtle it’s not, but the words cut like a knife, ripping into the cruel world of being sold into prostitution at a young age, sexual diseases, and suicide. I found myself routinely laughing, shocked, and in awe by this creative and wonderfully powerful piece of theatre. THIS is what Ensemble Studio Theatre does best; it takes big, hard to talk about topics and creates an original and unique form of expression to tell it to the audience. Sasha Diamond and Jo Mei are fantastic as the two young Japanese girls. They are riveting to watch as they deliver their lines like comic shards of glass. The rest of the cast lend great support, from the beautiful trees above them (Ohno, Hatakeyama, Ichikawa) and Don Castro as the Samurai who eventually comes upon them. The costumes by Suzanne Chesney are gorgeous, and the direction by John Giampietro is powerful. Unlike anything else in the fest, or likely unlike anything else you’ll see soon, Double Suicide at Ueno Park! shows what theatre truly can do: teach, educate, shock, and shine a light upon a world you don’t see everyday. Thankfully, there are theatres like EST that continually produce groundbreaking productions like this. Bravo. See you next Marathon…

 

MATEO'S GRADES:  Devil Music: D, Good Afternoon: B, The Science of Stars and Fathers and Daughters: B+, The Talk: A-, Double Suicide At Ueno Park!: A+

 

Written by: Angela Hanks, Daniel Reitz, Darcy Fowler, France-Luce Benson, and Leah Nanako Winkler. Directed by: Morgan Gould, Jules Ochoa, Linsay Firman, Elizabeth Van Dyke, and John Giampietro. Featuring: Daniel Morgan Shelley, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Haskell King, Kersti Bryan, Michael Cullen, Emma Galvin, Lizan Mitchell, Sharina Martin, Sasha Diamond, Jo Mei, Yurika Ohno, Kana Hatakeyama, Shiori Ichikawa, Don Castro.

MATEO MORENO recently won a bet on who could hold their breath the longest underwater. He won the bet, having beat local loudmouth Jimmy "Thunderbird" Thomas with a record breaking "fourteen minutes." True, part of that time was him unconscious and the other part was him being revived, but he still counts it, and is now $20 richer. Take THAT Thunderbird! He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.